Orthodox Jewish woman takes the lead at prestigious divinity school

30 Aug 2017
30 Aug 2017 Facebook Twitter Email Print

Laurie Zoloth, a 67-year-old bioethicist and Orthodox Jew, has taken over as dean of the prestigious and  University of Chicago Divinity School, marking the first time that a Jew has held such a position.

A registered nurse with masters degrees in Jewish Studies and English and a doctorate in social ethics, Zoloth is also the the former president of American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and American Academy of Religion. She describes herself as a lifelong child of the sixties and a social activist who filters everything she does through the lens of the Biblical passage “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.”

“I am a lifelong activist from the ’60s,” she told Religion News Service. “The questions of religion are at the center of our national life. We see today questions of good and evil, how we ought to live and what we owe one another. Our job is to uncover the truth and ask questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to be free? And what must we do about the suffering of others? The university exists to pursue this.”

While Jews are decently represented in the faculty of America’s top divinity schools, Frank Yamada, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, told RNS that he does not believe that there is another Jew serving as dean of university divinity program.

According to the university, Zoloth’s research explores religion and ethics, drawing from sources ranging from Biblical and Talmudic texts to postmodern Jewish philosophy, including the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. Her scholarship spans the ethics of genetic engineering, stem cell research, synthetic biology, social justice in health care, and how science and medicine are taught. 

“The University of Chicago Divinity School has a long history as a leader in the academic study of religion. It has an opportunity not only to expand and deepen this work in the coming years, but to bring this expertise to a much richer, informed, dispassionate public discourse on religion,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier in a statement announcing her selectioon earlier this year.

“Laurie’s leadership in the field of religious studies, her scholarship in areas of Judaism and ethics, and her work on evolving issues of science and society make her an excellent choice as dean.”

The University of Chicago Divinity School is considered one of the top programs in the field.